I launched a new book this year, so I’m eager for reviews, and at the same time take a deep breath before I read them. I’ve known authors who simply do not read reviews of their books and theatre people who don’t read reviews of their plays. I’m just too curious to take that position, and I know from the reviews of my first four books and a couple of anthologies in which I’ve had pieces, that different reviewers bring different perspectives and I won’t always like them. I’ve been fortunate, though, in that I’ve never had to deal with a review that was such a bitter pill it made me gag.
I’ve had conversations with other writers about the increasing number of reviews that lean more and more in the direction of a synopsis or précis of the plot with a concluding sentence or two in which the reviewer tells us whether he/she is hot or not on the book in case we haven’t already gleaned enough clues from the tone of the synopsis. Some seem more promotional than analytical.
The book reviews that challenge my credibility are those that are so heaped with praise that they read as though they’ve been written by the author’s Grandma, or by another author with a debt to repay. The review of a fine book should tell us what makes it fine without declaring that it surpasses the discovery that peanuts make good butter, and will remain at the top of “The Best” lists for decades to come. There are such books and they are, and should be, held in high esteem. But a fine book that doesn’t quite achieve those heights doesn’t benefit in any way from gilding the lily.
The reviews that anger me are the ones that kick a book onto the freeway with the hope that it will end up as road kill. There are people who disagree with me, but when a writer has spent years on a work, and has sought a publisher to the point of fatigue, and has finally found a place with either a traditional publisher or through the arduous process of self-publishing, the book surely deserves more than a venomous panning.
Here are links to two reviews of Odd One Out:
I admit that my knee jerk reaction to criticism is to go on the defensive (although I really did enjoy the criticism that the book was lacking in foul language in the Quill and Quire review). Fortunately, the exasperated voice in my writer mind tells me to get over it or put down the pen. I know that every one of my books is flawed in some way but strong enough that I don’t have to hover around and protect it.
Though I don’t know either of these reviewers personally, from the bit of bio on the review pages, they are people whose experience and “credentials” I respect. Both of these are fair and balanced reviews for which I’m grateful. Two reviewers, two perspectives, and I know that among my readers there will be opinions that run the gamut from road kill to peanut butter.
Isn’t one of the pleasures of telling our stories the interesting feedback they provoke? Don’t our stories belong to the reader once we’ve sent them out in the world?
So I raise a glass to good reviewers, and to their ability to approach a book with a clear eye and give it an honest appraisal.
How do I feel about these two reviews? Both of them recommend the book. What more do I need?